The Last Post…

Posted: Sunday, 18th Aug 2013 in Thailand


Today is my last day in Bangkok and SE Asia. I fly out late tonight or more correctly, early tomorrow morning; 2am to be exact. An ungodly hour. I fly to Guangzhou in China where there is a 2 hour stopover. Then a change of planes and a 12 hour flight to London where I arrive at 5pm tomorrow. I’ll be knackered! It was that or a much more expensive direct flight. No contest.

The day before yesterday (Thursday) was a strange sort of a day. I woke up at 7am following a reasonable night’s sleep. My stomach felt squeamish, very unusual for me. I went to the loo and both ends of my digestive system expressed copiously; though mercifully not simultaneously. This puzzled me as I had eaten dinner over 12 hours previously at a local restaurant with good customer turnover and fresh food. I would have expected to become ill a few hours after eating and not 12 hours later. Anyway, I was ill the whole day and could keep nothing down, not even water. I slept the whole day or rather dozed and woke up and dozed again and paid several visits to the porcelain throne. It was very unpleasant. This nausea and inability to keep any food down continues to today and I still feel a bit rough. I went to Boots (yes, they’re even here in Bangkok) and got some meds for the nausea and rehydration sachets. I don’t fancy feeling ill while on a long plane flight but fairly sure I’ll be ok. I wonder if I’ve caught dysentery and will see my doc as soon as back in London.

Anyway, nothing more boring about people withering on about their pains and aches, especially older ‘uns like myself. The reason I’m mentioning it at all is because it’s unusual. I have an immune and digestive system like an armoured combine harvester and generally grind noxious flora and fauna to dust. Also, it had not really happened before during my 5 months in Asia. I have also noticed that in the past, around times of great emotional change, that I often have a physical reaction. For example, during work time I’m never ill. Wait until holiday time and I come down with something. This has happened every christmas for several years now. Stress manifests physically through headaches etc frequently before I’m even aware that I’m stressed. And then there’s my voice and how this is an example of somatised childhood trauma. Etc etc.

So, I’m wondering. Is this unset stomach just a feisty little bug or something else. Being in Asia has been a real big deal for me and in many ways has turned my view of myself upside down. I was talking to some young American lads at an AA meeting in Phnom Pehn a few weeks ago and they were very excited about going upcountry and doing adventurous things. I reflected that this is not where I am at at all now although it was when I was their age and was travelling around Central Asia and India for several months. Today, at this stage of my life, it’s more about being, just being with myself in different contexts and noticing the responses. Being in Asia is very different to doing Asia. Actually, I do very little and am developing quite a taste for this!

Returning to the UK and nascent plans to resettle in Dublin are life changers as well and generate stress. Maybe this is what’s going on. Yada yada yada. I’m beginning to bore myself now. This is bordering on the self-obsessive so I’ll stop.

I am looking forward to long evenings again although I read in the Irish Times today that the evenings are beginning to draw in again. That’s a pity as it gets dark here at 6.30pm. There is no dusk; it’s day and then it’s night. I look forward to lanes as well as country roads.

See you soon.


Wat’s it all about..

Posted: Thursday, 15th Aug 2013 in Thailand

I had a few hours to kill yesterday morning. My train from Laos arrived early at 6am and I couldn’t check-in to my hotel until noon-ish. I dropped my bag off at the hotel and just took my iPad and Kindle with me. I was going to go to a coffee shop and read the Irish Times on my iPad and check my email and Facebook, you know, modern world things. On a whim, I decided to go to a local Wat or Thai Buddhist temple. I was feeling in a calm contemplative space and wasn’t too keen on getting spaced out by the photo luminescence from my iPad or sundry gadgets. Going somewhere quiet seemed just the ticket.

Wat That Thong is a local working Wat and not really part of the tourist trail. The word temple is a bit misleading as Thai temples are more like medieval monasteries than modern day churches. This one covered a large area and had several temple like structures as well as a school, health clinic and lots of other buildings. Many monks live there as well. The complex is built on the grounds of two older temples, Wat That and Wat Thong. For that they combined the names and named it Wat That Thong. Inside the main temple there’s a golden Buddha image and that’s where I went. I first thought I would just sit and rest and take in the atmosphere and this is what I did.

I belong to the school of ‘see one golden Buddha and you’ve seen them all.’ I’ve been to several temples in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, even one in Malaysia, and they’re all much of a muchness. I’m not trying to be irreverent here but SE Asia Buddhism is very specific to the culture and history of the region and, to me, seems very inaccessible and foreign. This means that I’m in the position of being an observer and not really a participant although I consider myself a Buddhist and have done so for almost 50 years, but more about that later.

The temple was similar to others I have seen. The main shrine was in a large hall beautifully decorated and containing one huge golden Buddha and several smaller ones. The way this one was arranged reminded my of my days as an alterboy in Dublin back in the 50s. Our local church, St Gabriel’s, had a main altar and two side ones, one to Mary and I don’t remember who the other one was. I used to serve 7.30 mass there every morning for a long time. I remember the devotion I used to feel in those days although I knew, but couldn’t afford to admit, that there was no god there on the altar and that the statues were just plaster and that the whole thing was just made up. Even in those days my head and heart were split apart. Nevertheless, I did feel devotion. I could compare this memory to what I observed in the Thai people and how they related to the Wat, monks, images of the Buddha etc. I tried to put myself in their shoes by remembering how I used to feel. Of course this didn’t work, it just started to make me feel alienated.

I was thinking these thoughts as I was sitting in the temple just taking in the calmness of the place and letting memories from my own past bubble up. There were about a dozen Thai people already there, just sitting or chatting quietly amongst themselves. Nearly all were elderly and most were dressed in rainy season robes which means that they were lay people who had taken temporary ordination during the rainy season. There was one monk there sitting on a chair and reading some text. I wished to talk to him but guessed that he didn’t speak English, as few Thais do. He also didn’t invite me with his eyes to connect with him. Thai people, or at least the ones I have observed, tend to mind their own business and only make brief eye contact with strangers. This was very obvious in places of enforced intimacy such as long distance train journeys. I spent a lot of time in sleeper carriages with Thai people and they generally left me alone unless I initiated contact. I did this a few times but the language barrier was frequently a big problem. I did share a 4 berth carriage once with two young men who were on a business trip. They were delightful and I felt “adopted” into an extended family. They made sure I got food and water from the attendant and wanted a photo of me with each of them. This was sweet. I was a bit shocked at first about the differing concepts of personal space Asian people have. The two men folded their bodies into what I, as a European, consider personal space. I immediately experienced this as both an existential threat and erotic. Of course, it was neither. I practiced a technique I have learned during my stay in Asia, I yielded! This has happened several times. For some reason, Chinese tourists like to have their photo taken with me. Go figure!

During the time I was there, several locals came and went and made donations of flowers or money, prostrated before the Buddha images and prayed for a while. I noticed the gentleness in their gestures and the kindness in their glances when they interacted with each other. I found this very beautiful and refined. Generally, I really appreciate the lack of aggressiveness in Asian men. Maybe the work ‘lack’ is the wrong one to use as it suggests an absence of something. When I compare groups of Asian men with groups of Western men, I value the refined consciousness and social cohieveness of Asia. I always feel safe here, even around groups of young men.

Anyway, after about half an hour, I decided to get off my chair and meditate. Just as I settled myself into meditation posture, dozens of monks floated in, their saffron robes and gentle natures very pleasing to the eye. It was time for morning prayers. A senior monk chanted the Refuges and Precepts in the old language of Pali used during the Buddha’s lifetime. I have chanted these thousands of times during my days as an active Buddhist and knew them off by heart. I struggled to follow the chanting as the Thai accent and intonation meant that I could not really understand what was being said. Nevertheless, despite a reluctance to being different, I chanted what I thought was right and it went ok.

It is considered very bad form in Buddhist SE Asia to sit higher than a monk so the monks sat on a raised platform in the front of the temple. This meant that I could see them. I was surprised at how very young some of them seemed, some just like schoolboys. There was only one older monk. I got thinking about my own days as a Buddhist practitioner when I lived in communities and was on an ordination pathway. This was with the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO), now the Triratna Buddhist Community. The movement was formed by an Englishman, Sangharakshita, in the 1960s and integrated western philosophy and experience with traditional Asian thought and practice. I remembered my days in the shrine rooms of the FWBO and how disparate a group they were. I mean as Westerners. There would be blond ones and dark ones, hairy ones and bald ones, expensively coiffured ones and raggedy-headed ones, tall ones and short ones, skinny ones and big-boned ones, calm-eyed ones and wild-eyed ones, ones of this world and ones out of this world as well as the occasional other-worldly one, door slammers and door closers, self-contained ones and uncontained ones, quiet ones and noisy ones, big bony noses and pert little buttons of noses, bit flappy ears and little ones like seashells, bulging eyeballs just about to pop out and inscrutable little slivers, eyebrows like they came from the Sargasso Sea and ones like a manicured English lawn, etc etc etc. you get the drift! The Asian monks I observed all looked fairly similar, at least in outward appearance. They all had short dark hair, Thai features, etc. They all had their differences, of course, but the similarities seemed far greater that the differences. To my noisy European monkey mind this appeared very harmonious and pleasing and indeed pure.

I noticed as well that most of the monks were not at all focused during the ceremony, which did go on a bit. They fidgeted a lot and were constantly adjusting their robes, which looked fabulous by the way. I think being a monk in Thailand is like national service. But that is none of my business really. As I constantly do over here, I struggled to be consistent with my own beliefs and opinions while at the same time being open to a culture I don’t really understand. I think this is called being congruent.

The ceremony ended, all went their separate ways and I went back to he hotel to check-in, shower, change my clothes and have a nap. Ah, the hard life!

Messages, Smessages

Posted: Tuesday, 13th Aug 2013 in Thailand

When the universe decides to send me a message, she usually talks loudly. Well, I got a few messages from her recently. She is suggesting that’s its time for me to return home.

I just found out that my return ticket home is a type of scam. I was promised a return ticket and it appeared to be one but the travel agent, a dodgy sort, stated that it is called a dummy return and cannot be used. He promised to sell me one for several hundred pounds. I politely declined. I’m chasing this up with KLM but not too hopeful. This means that I have to buy my own return. As this is the height of the holiday season, they are very expensive. I could wait until 9 Sept when they are cheaper but this would mean being another month here and I really need to get back to London within the next week or so. The money is not a problem but I would prefer to spend it here in SE Asia instead of enriching an airline. I found some cheap tickets online but they mean a long stop-over in Delhi. Not a problem really so I will probably go with that.

Somehow, I am managing not to get pissed off about this; a bit annoyed maybe but not my usual fury. Asia is weaving its spell on me!

The other message is that I am beginning to get tired and a bit disconnected from life. I have been away from my home and networks for almost five months now and on the road living out of a (small) backpack for around six weeks. While this has been exhilarating and challenging and consciousness-expanding, it has also started to become tiring. I was talking a to few young backpackers yesterday and they were saying that they are exhausted. They have been on the road for only 3 weeks so its not an age thing. It’s more of a spirit thing. As a reformed addict, I want more and more from more and more. And then I want some more until whatever it is is drained dry. Well, it might be monsoon season here but I’m getting a bit dry. Time to go.

My way of travelling is about instinct, about not planning ahead and allowing events to unfold. For example, I never plan where and when I will be travelling to another country or town. I have a vague list of places I want to see and am confident that I will get there when the time is right. This has worked out really well for me and there is absolutely no pressure about itinerary, travel etc. It allows me to be in the here-and-now as fully as I can possibly be and enjoy where I am. The downside of this is that it is emotionally draining, for me, not to have a base where I can replenish my spiritual energies. I have invested heavily in the Bank of Life for the past 30 years and am relatively wealthy, spiritually and psychically. I have lived off the interest for the past five months without having to touch the capital but now the bank manager is beginning to look worried. Time to top up my account again.

I need to cut my trip to Laos short and return to Bangkok today so I have access to papers and can leave Thailand at a few hours notice. This is a pity because I was looking forward to seeing a bit more of Laos. However, I suspect I will be back to this part of the world again before long. I’m catching the overnight train today from Nong Khai at 18:20 and arrive in Bangkok at the ungodly hour of 6am.

That’s it. Back on message again.

All good things, etc. etc.

Posted: Saturday, 6th Jul 2013 in Thailand

Well, all good things come to an end. Today is my last official day at work though I’m actually on leave. Job didn’t really work out but I gave it my best shot. I said I would stay for three months and theme up my mind. Three months has come and gone and I made up my mind.

Life here in Koh Chang is assuming a rhythm all of its own. The days have turned into weeks and now into months. I’ll soon be three months here, a quarter of a year. Now, who would have guessed that half a year ago. London and my life back there and then seems such a long time ago and a long way away. The here and now seems to have been here and now for such a long time.

The hot season has passed and we’re now in the rainy season. Once where it was hot and humid now it’s hot humid and rainy but not as hot. Sometimes we have freezing days when the temperature drops below 30°C, near arctic conditions by Thai standards. On a bad day I have to turn the air-con down to its lowest setting; pure hardship.

The rains now come every day. I spoke with an expat who has lived here for many years and he expressed surprise that they have come so soon. He said that it generally doesn’t rain this hard until September. More likelihood that the weather is changing on a worldwide scale. And yet we carbonise blindly on.

I had a Homer Simpsonesque moment a few days ago when someone mentioned that we’re living in a tropical rain forest. So, rain is part of the deal. Doh!!

As Eskimos are to snow so are Irish people to rain. Maybe we’re genetically disposed to water hurtling out of the sky . Although, judging from the level of whining about the rain, surpassing the sound of the rain pattering on the land and the number of Ryanair planes fleeing for hotter and drier lands, acceptance is still a long way off.

Rain in Ireland is a cold, sullen, alien stuff lashing out of a grey and unfriendly sky. It invites immediate aversion and shiverings. Everything inside screams, no, go away, stop, feck off. Flann O’Brien, that damaged genius, wrote a great description of Irish rain in his book, An Béal Bocht, The Poor Mouth.

The rain here in Thailand is different. For one thing, there’s a hell of a lot more of it. It buckets out of the sky at a fierce rate of knots. But, it’s warm and friendly and has a great sound to it. And, the sky is not an angry grey. There are banana trees with huge leaves just outside the front of my apartment and the rainforest starts at the balcony at the back so I’m surrounded by foliage. I love the sound of the rain on the leaves, it sounds comforting and secure. I love lying in bed listening to it. Not sure about the accompanying thunder and lightening though. It’s great when I’m awake but sometimes wakes me up at night, when most of the rainfall is.

I’m aware of my conditioned response to rain, aversion, and conscious that I have a choice now to respond differently. I choose to accept rather that reject the fact that it rains so I don’t feel aversion or negative thoughts and feelings in response to this predominant fact. Easy peasy, only took about 60 years, that.

A few days ago it was pretty rainy so I wend somewhere it never rains, under the water. I went diving. It was an exhilarating day. It took about an hour and a half to reach the dive site. We travelled in an old fishing boat converted to a dive boat. It was locally made of teak and brightly painted and looked so cool. There were about a dozen or so people diving who came from all corners of the world and a great sense of camaraderie soon developed. The sea was pretty choppy so we were flung about quite a bit. When I saw how big the swells were, I was worried that I might get seasick but I didn’t.

The boat itself was quite basic; actually, it was very basic. It was just a wooden boat with a lorry engine attached and very rudimentary Heath-Robinsonish controls. Just as well that there wasn’t a health and safety person within a few thousand kilometres. I felt confident though because the old Thai guy driving the boat looked very confident and the boat was very well built. The two Cambodian deckhands were also full of good cheer although I did hope that this didn’t come from a bottle.

I have no sailing experience whatsoever but the boat seemed to ride the waves in a very natural and even beautiful way and I just enjoyed the journey. I was sitting on cushions in the middle of the boat on a platform above the engine and just in front of where the captain was driving so I had a good view of everything. Luckily, there were lots of handholds to hang on to when the boat was corkscrewing around in the waves. After about an hour, all the conversation stopped and we were lulled into a sense of being at one with nature as the wind whistled and the boat bobbed about. The wooden boat creaked and groaned in a very musical fashion as it carved its way through the rough seas. Every now and then a very big wave would come and the boat would leap around ever more energetically than usual and this would be accompanied by groans and ooohs and aaahs and whoops from the landlubbers aboard. The older ones, like me, also creaked a bit near the journeys end.

Eventually the boat anchored in the lee of a small island and we began diving or snorkelling. My first dive was pretty uneventful. I was mainly concerned with developing buoyancy skills so didn’t pay too much attention to the wildlife around. We were in fairly shallow water, about 10 metres, and due the the weather, the visibility was only about 15 metres. Near the end of the dive, about 50 minutes, I was just beginning to get a sense of how to move up and down in the water and avoid the massed ranks of vicious-looking urchins on the seabed. It’s hard to maintain ones dignity while climbing out of the sea and up a small slippery ladder with a half a ton of diving gear hanging out of different bits of ones body but, dear readers, you will be glad to hear that I did.

The second dive began like the previous one and was about practicing safety procedures and diving techniques. Near the end, I was practicing with Mike, my instructor, how to react to a sudden out of air situation. We had discussed what to do and I had also practiced this before in the safety of the swimming pool so I felt fairly confident. Every diver has an emergency air supply to give to another diver, his buddy, should an emergency arise. It consists of a yellow airline and a standard breathing regulator. You’re meant the grab it, stick it in your gob and breath normally. I took my regulator out of my mouth and let it drop to the side while allowing air to bubble out of my mouth. I took Mike’s emergency line and put the regulator in my mouth and took a breath. Water flooded in. I began to drown. Panic began to nibble at the edge of my mind and, like ink on blotting paper, began to soak into the centre of my being. Mike was gesticulating but I hadn’t a clue what he was trying to communicate. I took the regulator out and put it back in again but when I tried to breathe, water came in again. By now, my lungs were almost empty and my only thought was ‘air, I need air, I have to get the fuck out of here and get to the surface, right NOW’. All my training and practice went out of the window and my whole attention focused on the button on the control valve to inflate my buoyancy vest and pop me to the surface like a cork. I did this and in a few seconds I was on the surface breathing in sweet air.

This however, was a very dangerous thing to do. There are procedures on how to surface and avoid decompression sickness or lungs rupturing from the sudden air expansion caused by the lessening pressure as one gets nearer the surface. Had we been deeper, say 30 metres, I might seriously damaged myself. However, the gods look out for madmen and drunks so I survived to tell the tale.

It scary how suddenly everything changed. I was happy as a clam floating about and looking at marine life and suddenly The Lord of Death was yanking at my ankle. It just took a breath for all to change. I was very calm and confident up to that point and then, whoosh. All that happened was that I put my regulator in my mouth upside down. It not designed to work that way so naturally did not work the way it was designed. That’s one mistake I will NEVER make again.

That night as I was just dropping off to sleep, I got a vivid flashback of drowning and woke with a start. Shit, I said to myself and went back to sleep. It happened again. I recognised what was happening and used a therapeutic technique I use with PTSD on myself as I didn’t want this to take root. Luckily, it worked and I dropped off to sleep immediately with no recurrence of the flashbacks. Whew.

More later about the West Wind calling me…….

Growing Old Disgracefully

Posted: Tuesday, 11th Jun 2013 in Thailand

I generally wake up early and spend the hour before breakfast in silence. The other morning I heard the call of a bird outside my window. I went out to have a look and saw a bird that looked like a large wagtail but with a large white patch on its back. It was perched on a banana tree a meter or so from the edge of the balcony and singing the most beautiful of songs. It was enchanting. The song was very different to any I had heard before and brought home to me that I was living in a very foreign country and how very lucky to be doing so. I spent a few moments listening and when I moved closer to get a better look, it flew away. Wonder if this is a metaphor for my life!

I spent a few days last week at our new facility in Chantibhuri. I felt right at home there. I will be moving there from the island in a few weeks time and looking forward to it. It is a bit smaller than the clinic at Koh Chang but the treatment model used there is something I am very familiar with and have a lot of experience with.

Now that I’m officially an ould fella, I suppose I should be a nice old person and wear a nice fawn cardigan and Marks and Spark’s socks. Well, I actually do wear Marks and Spark’s socks (and underwear, as well; don’t tell a soul) but as for the rest, well, fuck it. I intend to grow old disgracefully. To help me achieve this goal, I decided to get a tattoo. This was inspired by a colleague who got his whole back covered by a very elaborate piece of body art. I always admired tattoos on other people and was attracted to the idea of using the body to display art but never really thought about getting one myself. I suppose I was a bit snobbish about getting a tramp stamp or slag tag on my pure Irish Catholic body, the temple of the Holy Ghost etc etc. Now, there’s outmoded language, if ever there was. Then that wonderfully liberating Anglo-Saxon expression, Fuck It, came to mind so, naturally, I said Fuck It, not Feck It but the bad F-word, Fuck It. And then went to get a tattoo.

I went to a guy called Danny, a shy Thai man who lives with his wife and two kids in Lonely Beach. He is a consummate craftsman and designed and tattooed a Thai Buddha on my right shoulder and upper arm. It took 4 hours to do the outline and I get this coloured in on Saturday. He worked like a surgeon with confidence and speed. I really like it and am planning to get another on my left arm of Cernunnus, an old Irish god. He is represented in old carvings as a wild man with stag’s antlers and a snake or serpent in his right hand as a staff. This snake was what St Patrick banished from Ireland when he rid Ireland of snakes. He banished the power of the old Celtic gods and Cernunnus, without his snake, became a representation of Satan. I have an interesting statue back home in London which is a copy of an old statue looted from an Irish monastery by the Vikings in around the 9th Century. It is an image of Cernunnus without his staff and sitting in what looks like meditation posture with his eyes closed. He looks at peace but in all likelihood is dead. The statue is made from compressed turf or peat.

I like snakes and have a Naga or snake incorporated into my Buddhist tattoo on my right shoulder. The Buddha represents for me my higher evolution or consciousness while Cernunnus represents my lower evolution or unenlightened animal nature. I am planning to get a large tattoo on my chest and back representing my journey from lower to higher evolution and celebrating both aspects of me. I thought the one on my chest, over my heart, would be a statement of where I am and where I want to be while the one on my back would also be a statement of where I am but also where I came from, the more painful side of my life journey. What these will be at the moment, I don’t have an idea.

I also decided to let none of this show outside my shirt line so only I know they are there and can choice who to invite to see. I will post some piccies in my next blog when I figure out how to do this.

So there you are boys and girls. Queer things happen when you leave the safety and security of your home and come to live in the jungle where the old gods still live…..

Weather here has changed a lot since I last wrote (where do the days and weeks go?). We are now well into the rainy season and will be for a good few months. It means that the remorseless heat has stopped and it rains a lot. And I mean, a LOT; the heavens open and the thunder and lightening cracks and flashes exciteingly. I understand now why the local gods look so fierce; nature is very scary over here. Impressed how the early Buddhist teachers turned them into guardians of the teachings instead of annihilating them, as happened in Europe. They must have been giants of men.

So far, it usually rains during the night and is sunny during the day with a few days of heavy rain every now and again. Today was sunny for most of the day with a brief shower at around noon. I went out for a swim in the surf just after the rain stopped and while the sky was a bit overcast. I thought it would be dullish for a hour or so but the sun came out just as I left. I ended up getting my head sunburnt because I forgot my sunblock. It’s not too bad though, just a darkish pink instead of a worrying purple. I was on my scooter at the time and its very easy, for me, to underestimate the strength of the sun when zooming along with my long golden tresses waving in the wind (just made up that last bit, in case you’re wondering).

I took up scuba diving a month or so ago. It was partially to help me de-stress from work by doing something completely different to addiction treatment and the dark forces loose in a rehab. I’m also interested in marine ecology and had a saltwater reef aquarium when I lived in Bristol. I loved looking at my little world of corals and invertebrates and wondering what it would be like to be actually swimming with them in their natural habitat. I was walking past a diving school and on a whim, went in to enquire how I might go about learning to dive. The school is a PADI five star one and I got chatting with the guy who owned it. He is an Englishman called Mike who has been here in Koh Chang for years. I trusted him and before I had time to think too much about it, I signed on the dotted line and paid a deposit.

The first day was half spent at the school learning the technical basics and the other half was in what seemed a very deep pool putting the theory into practice. I had one moment of blind panic where I was standing at the edge of what looked like the Grand Canyon, it was really just a regular little pool, with a ton of metal tank on my back and steel weights around my waist as well as a wetsuit, buoyancy jacket, goggles, flippers, yards of mysterious tubes, strange breathing things to stick in my gob. “Jump” said Mike. “Are you fecking mad” I said to myself ” I’ll sink to the bottom like a stone and drown terribly and be no more”. “Jump, jump” Mike said again and as I trusted him, I did. I was more hippopotemous that dolphin, it must be said. Strangely enough, I did not sink and bobbed around on the surface; my first experience of neutral buoyancy. What a blast.

We went through the different procedures I had to demonstrate competence in before I could go into the open sea. Most of them went ok although I struggled with a few but this was more down to my learning style than difficulties I had with the procedures. I usually learn by doing and making mistakes and then correcting my mistakes. The scariest technique was when Mike turned off the air in my tank to demonstrate an emergency out of air situation. I assumed I would panic but I didn’t. Indeed the opposite happened. I remained very calm and exaggerated all the moves I needed to make to use of the emergency air supply. This did my confidence no end of good.

A few days later, I did my first open water dive. As I am not yet certificated I was only allowed to dive to 12 metres but that’s pretty deep for some one who has never dived before. Our first dive was just over an old battleship sunk by the Thai navy for use as a diving attraction. It was in about 40 metres of water so I could only swin over it at the level of the crow’s nest. It was very exciting seeing the other divers deep below swimming around. There was an astonishing number of fish darting around as well. Later on, we moved to a different area and went diving in a coral reef. It probably wasn’t as good as he Red Sea or the Great Barrier Reef in Australia but it was stunning for me nevertheless. So many fish and so many colours. Admittedly, most of my time was spent trying to master swimming and buoyancy but I still had a great time. For a few seconds when every thing seemed to click into place and I didn’t have to think too hard, it felt magnificent.

Unfortunately, I swallowed too much seawater and felt squeamish and didn’t do the final dive of the day. I have to do another day and a half to get certified and can then decend to 30 metres.

Makes a difference to the last adventurous thing I did: transversing Great Gable in the Lake District last Christmas.

Please feel free to comment so I don’t thing I’m forgotten!

More soon about growing old disgracefully….

With rare sartorial wisdom I went to Uniqlo the day before I left for Thailand and bought seven short sleeved linen shirts of various colours, even a shocking pink one, and four pairs of cotton shorts. Two of the shorts were khaki and the others were an alarming green and an anaemic canary yellow. “I’ll get them just in case; you never know” I said to myself, knowing I don’t normally wear bright colours. I thought about this this morning while looking in my wardrobe and trying to see what didn’t clash with what. I noticed that my two suits, linen of course and Hugo Boss naturally, were unworn and that I hadn’t worn a pair of long trousers, socks or shoes for over a month. All I wear here are the above mentioned linen shirts and shorts and flip flops. Even the shorts were too heavy so I bought a few new pairs at a local market. They were very light cotton and looked more like boxer shorts than proper outdoor clothes. It took me ages to get over the impression that I was going to work in my underwear! Necessity is a great motivator so get over it I did and now I’m much cooler.

I hired a little scooter to get me around the island as it’s too hot to walk anywhere and the taxis can be unreliable. It only costs 3000 Baht a month, about 65 quid or 75 Euro. Not bad at all. The bike is a Yamaha 135 Automatic and everyone here seems to use them to get around. Koh Chang is a mountainous island and all development is on the coast so there are a lot of hills. Some of the hairpin bends are quite scary or at least they were the first few times I tried to negotiate them. Now they’re a doddle. There is only one road going around most of the island except the southern tip, which is still wild. The road is about 45KM in length and very varied. The Western side of the island is mainly tourist orientated with resorts, restaurants and the like. Some parts are very tacky while other bits are ok. One of the villages is called Lonely Beach and is a bit like Amsterdam in the 70s with lots of head shops, rock bars and stoned looking young ‘uns all over the place. I don’t like it.

Bang Bao is the place nearest to where I live and where I go to shop. It was once a fishing village and has transformed into a tourist village with a long enclosed pier full of shops and some seriously good seafood restaurants. It is also the base for diving tours and dozens of fabulous looking brightly painted wooden boats leave here every day to bring people to the coral reefs for scuba diving. There is also a flourishing fishing industry so the place is quite lively. I like it.

The Eastern side of the island is my favourite and is very traditional with lots of palm trees and is really the edge of the rainforest. There are a few classy resorts but very little else. It’s off the beaten tourist track.

The other day I was going to Bang Bao on my scooter to get something or the other at the shops. The road is hilly in parts and winds around a bit. I left a dappled section of the road where trees were overhanging and into a sunlit patch. I noticed something on the road just in front of me as I rolled over it. It was moving and had a lot of legs. I think it was one of those huge Huntsman spiders we have here or a tarantula. I didn’t go back to check, just in case it was still alive and pissed off at me! Although spiders are the only critters in the natural world, humans excepted, I get twitchy about, I still don’t like killing them and regretted my lack of mindfulness and for going too fast. Mosquitos are a different matter. They just buzz with potential for swatting. They’re savage little bastards and chewed lumps out of me until I figured out a proper protection regime. I now spray myself with 50% DEET three times a day and they seem to leave me alone. God knows what DEET is doing to me as it’s a pretty toxic concoction. I got a tough nylon poncho for the rains a few weeks ago. I tried it out when I got home and when I took it off again, the whole head section came away. It was like it had been melted with a hop knife. I had sprayed my neck with DEET an hour or so before so I’m assuming that it melted the nylon. Gulp. Koh Chang is not a malarial area so I’m not to worried about that but dengue fever is rampant in Thailand and I sure don’t fancy a dose of that. So, it’s a toss up between DEET and Dengue.

There’s lots of wildlife around. There’s always something running around but I’m getting used to that now. I was in bed a few days ago and something crawled over my foot. Not something large, maybe a moth or little gecko or a smallish spider. In the past I would jump out of bed like a shot but this time I just said feck it and ignored it.

Time for bed. More soon.

Took me longer than I expected to get this Blog out. First, we had an earlier than expected harbinger of the rains to come and then the Internet was down for a bit. But all these are just excuses. I was really too lazy and this was because it is taking me longer to settle in than I thought and I hit a sort of wall a few weeks ago. However, walls are always climbable, or at least have a gate in them, so I got to the other side and back to my old self again. Now, this could be good or this could be bad!

I’m now a month in Koh Chang but it seems much longer. It took me a while to actually realise that I was living in a tropical country thousands of kilometres from friends and networks. I knew this on a cognitive level, of course, but it took longer to really get this on an emotional level.  I think thoughts travel at airship speed but feelings travel at sailing ship speed. At least mine seem to. Anyway, they all appear to have joined together now.

I have moved home lots of times in the past, hence my Internet moniker An Spailpín Fánach. A Spailpín Fánach was an itinerant labourer, common in Ireland in olden times, who used to wander from village to village or town to town looking for casual work and having no home. I’m a modern version of that; with an iPad. When I moved to The Netherlands in 2008 it took no time at all to settle in and become part of the local scene so I thought it would be more or less the same this time. How wrong could I be. I had underestimated how important my friendship networks are and how I define myself in-the-world by my relationships. I don’t miss London at all but I do miss my friends and my friendship networks; my family of choice if not of origin but more important to me now than my biological family.

I’m finally getting used to the weather which can be pretty fierce at times. I have an app on my iPad and it tells the actual temperature and the ‘feels like’ one. It constantly feels like the mid 40s here, serious heat. Being a tropical rainforest it is pretty steamy as well and it took me a while to adjust to such high levels of humidity. But adjust I did. I convinced myself that my sweating, gasping, thirsty hotness was my body’s natural way of restoring balance or harmony when it came into contact with the climate which, in turn, is a natural response to Thailand’s relationship with the planet and the sun etc. This gave me permission to stop fighting and just accept that that’s how it is here in Koh Chang, which of course is what it is.

Despite the fact that I avoid the sun as much as possible and slather on shovelfuls of SF30 whenever I do venture out, I’m still getting tanned. My arms and face are now turning brown. The other day I was sitting reading when I noticed a pair of arms in my lap. “Why has that Indian guy got his hands in my lap” I said to myself but then noticed that they were my arms! My legs are still white though despite getting the same amount of sun walking from building to building on this large site. My upper arms, under the shirt sleeve line, are still paper white. When I have my shirt off, it looks like I work in a leather tanning factory!

That’s it. Off out. More soon about mopeds, mosquitos, monkeys and tarantulas too.

Yesterday was my first proper day off. I went “downtown” to White Sands, one of the better of the tourist ghettos in Koh Chang. I left the place I stay around 11.30 am and caught a taxi to drop me off in the middle of White Sands so I could have a ramble around and get the feel of the pace and Thai culture.

I say “taxi” but they are far from what we would call a taxi in London. They are small pickup trucks with an awning over the cargo area and 2 benches along each side. You clamber aboard over the tailgate, which is sometimes lowered and sometimes not. This can present a bit of a challenge for gentlefolk of a certain age with dodgy knees to maintain their dignity while boarding. However, not wishing to look like Victor Meldrew with haemorrhoids is a great incentive to jump up briskly as is a desire to go where one wants.

When the taxi came, there were a few western people on board; they hold a maximum of 8 to 10 people. I noticed how nobody made eye contact or responded to my saying hello except for a sort of grunt. How different to the Thai people. The journey was exciting as we were exposed to the elements as the taxi raced up and down hairpin bends in the mountain road. There were no seat belts, of course, and it would be easy to bounce out of your seat and out of the taxi. I could visualise my white Irish arms and legs, attached to the rest of me, rolling down the side of the mountain to be gobbled up by the rainforest and never to be seen again. Anyway, that didnt happen and we finally arrived in White Sands around noon.

Jesus, the heat. It was like being next to a blast furnace. The air almost felt solid, like wading through hot jelly. But I was determined to enjoy it so with bush hat on my head and layers of sunscreen on, I rambled up and down the village for about 30 mins until I could take no more and was on the edge of whimpering. I escaped into an air-conditioned coffeeshop for a latte. 70 baht, daylight robbery but I would have paid double. The place was full of hot and bothered looking Europeans of various shades of pink and red. The blast of cold air was delicious and a glass of cold water was served with the coffee. It tasted like nectar and I wondered how easy it would be to break long held vows, like not drinking alcohol, when exposed to such extremes of temperature.

When I had cooled down a bit, I sprayed on some more sunscreen and got ready to venture out into the heat again. I thought about how I am conditioned to expect sunshine to be a rare and random force of nature to be enjoyed and even endured whenever it shows its infrequent face. At least, this in in Ireland and most certainly is not the case in Thailand where it always shines. And shine, it does. The word tropical is a bit of a give away.

Anyway, when I got back out, it was even hotter and I noticed as I walked around that there was nobody else to be seen. There were a few people around before I went into the coffeeshop but now they were all gone. That’s when the line from the song “Mad dogs and Englishmen walk out in the noonday sun” popped into my head and I understood exactly why. I was the only mad eejit in the sun. I decided to head back home and as I was waiting for a taxi, I decided for some reason to have a squint at the sun and see what it looked like. I couldnt see it at first and then noticed that it was directly overhead. I’d never seen that before and it was strange but also very foreign and exciting. I love that slight disorientated frisson of shock when I come across something new and challenging to my accepted order of how things are. I get a lot of that here in Thailand!

While pacing up and down to keep cool as I waited for the taxi, I suddenly noticed that I had no shadow. How weird is that. For several decades I have dragged a long dark Irish shadow around with me wherever I went. For a few of those decades, it dragged me around. Now it was gone! Just a tiny tadpole thing where once Darth Vader reigned. How could I ever work as a psychotherapist again if I had no shadow. Maybe I would have to emigrate to Belgium or California or somewhere terribly bland.

But then the taxi came and rescued me and we bounced back home where I had a long cold shower and lay on my bed for an afternood nap, delightful stolen sleep, looking for all the world like a very white baby whale with arms and legs all pink with little brown bits on.